Slamdance Film Festival 2016: “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town”

Posted by Eddie Pasa on January 23, 2016 in / 8 Comments

 

Hearing the title How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town is titillating, no? You get images in your head of sweet-natured types suddenly unleashing sides of them they’ve never even shown their dearest lover whilst surrounded by similar-minded folk. True, that’s part and parcel of the film, but it’s in getting to that point where the film spends its time being outrageously funny.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Michael Parsons, Movie Critics, Film CriticsThe best part about How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town is its unpredictability. Yes, some character arcs may be telegraphed a bit, but it doesn’t mean they’re cliché or boring. Each character has their own peccadilloes and quirks which give the film its snappy, raucous esprit. Quick one-liners, little physical business like the tugging of one’s ear, and other small things make the film pop and jump like a rocking house party.

Of course, for being centered on a planned orgy, the film is almost non-stop sex talk; some of it is mature, while other times, it’s very juvenile. Most of it is due to Cassie Cranston (Jewel Staite), previously run out of town (figuratively and a bit literally) after a high school tryst gone bad. Returning to her small Canadian town of Beaver’s Ridge for her author mother’s funeral, she quickly encounters the same group of people who caused her to leave in the first place.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Michael Parsons, Movie Critics, Film CriticsDid I mention the kind of books her mother was famous for writing? Maureen Cranston (Lauren Holly) wrote a fictional equivalent of the “Anne of Green Gables” series, a trait that she passed down to Cassie, who maintains a job as a sex columnist in New York City. The apple fell far enough from the tree, it seems – one Cranston woman having been vaunted for her latter-day classics, the other being shunned and despised for sexual reasons.

With Cassie’s high school flame Adam (Ennis Esmer) being married to Heather (Lauren Lee Smith), the person responsible for slut-shaming Cassie out of town, it’s inevitable that tensions will rise and explode. Oddly enough, it’s an offhand remark which seems to dispel all of that. As the adult Heather once again tries to dig her barbs into Cassie at Maureen’s funeral, Cassie suggests they’re so repressed that they’ve never even had an orgy… which leads to wheels turning in everyone’s heads.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Michael Parsons, Movie Critics, Film CriticsPretty soon, with Cassie at the helm as a mere adviser (she wants no physical contact whatsoever) and mediator, a small group of friends starts on the road to some of the most awkwardly-initiated group sex ever seen in a movie, and everyone’s got an angle they’re playing. Like I said, it’s the getting there that makes this movie unforgettably funny. You will cringe at how stiff and blundering these attempts at an orgy are, but when everything finally clicks, you’ll laugh even harder.

Anchoring this Indiegogo-funded film is Jewel Staite, most known for her work in cult TV favorite “Firefly” as darling mechanic Kaylee. Her solid performance here as Cassie grounds the film and at least gives us some respite from watching the other characters (not actors, let’s be clear) fumble about like they’ve got two left feet. Playing opposite her is Ennis Esmer in a very Johnny Galecki-type role, someone who’s been henpecked into feeling worthless by his domineering wife.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Michael Parsons, Movie Critics, Film CriticsOne of the film’s surprises is the in-it-to-win-it, gung-ho Bruce Buck, as played by Mark O’Brien, who’s written as that guy who’s just a little too enthusiastic about the possibilities. We all know someone like him, and O’Brien doesn’t hold anything back as he gives Bruce unbridled glee at the promise of guilt-free sex with Heather or another participant. His arc – which includes Katherine Isabelle playing his promiscuous ex-wife Alice Solomon, another of this film’s treasures – is the most fun to watch, as he has to deal with both his emotions and a raging libido suddenly uncorked by this unexpected sexual revolution.

Written and directed by Jeremy Lalonde, his script pushes friendship boundaries to their limits and still has room for sweetness alongside the delightfully vulgar. It’s like a wonderful cross between Kevin Smith’s two films Chasing Amy and Zack and Miri Make a Porno (which I liked, damn it!) where sexual misgivings lead to truth and hilarity. Lalonde keeps the movie fast-paced and earnest, making How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town sharp and witty, earning your laughs with gusto as it goes full steam ahead toward its – erm – climax.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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